Libya’s recovery short-lived as country risks falling apart

libya-free_1835951cA comeback by Libya’s oil industry may be short-lived as a confrontation between armed groups risks splitting the country three years after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi, Reuters reports:

Oil production has risen to 650,000 barrels per day (bpd), five times the level two months ago, in a rare success for the economy at a time when armed groups and two parliaments fight for control of the North African country. ….The recent increase comes after a group of federalist rebels campaigning for regional autonomy implemented a deal to reopen major eastern ports such as Es Sider.

But Libya expert Dirk Vandewalle said federalist rebel leader Ibrahim Jathran might close these ports again, after a rival armed faction from the western city of Misrata took control of the capital Tripoli.

This group has pushed to reinstate Libya’s old General National Congress (GNC), refusing to recognize the new House of Representatives. Part of the Misrata forces are backed by the Muslim Brotherhood. In response, the federalists might opt to exert their power over oil exports and the economy as a whole.

“There is always the possibility that the federalists may take this opportunity to reassert themselves,” said Vandewalle, author of the book “History of Modern Libya”.

Secret air strikes are “an astounding and unusual action,” said William Lawrence of the Elliott School of International Affairs in Washington, adding that the US would not have approved of the move.

Libya expert Lawrence agrees that Security Council talks need to take place, saying, “Libya needs to be stabilized and hasn’t been able to do so on its own.” Instead, Lawrence tells DW, a UN mission is needed to help the country establish reliable political institutions and an inclusive government: “We need a political dialogue that includes the Islamists but doesn’t let them take the lead.”

In the campaign to overthrow Qaddafi, many militias currently fighting each other were comrades-in-arms. But many have since become enemies on the battlefield, RFE/RL reports.

“Over time, the different groups have associated themselves with different political currents, primarily nationalists and Islamists, and that automatically pits one against the other,” says George Joffe, a Libya expert and lecturer at the University of Cambridge, who estimates that around 350 different militias are currently operating in Libya.

“Each of them has represented an autonomous power center and has been very unwilling to share power with other groups. On top of all that, there is the question of the regional and tribal identities of the groups involved.”

Three important themes that have surfaced in the most recent episode of Islamist/Non-Islamist conflict concern the bifurcation of Libya, foreign intervention and the proxy war that Libya has become, Jason Pack of told Aljazeera’s Inside Story.

While much of the world’s attention has been focused on crises further east, the situation in Libya in the past few weeks has dissolved into the worst chaos since the 2011 war that ousted Moammar Gaddafi, the Washington Post’s Ishaan Tharoor and Adam Taylor observe.

With reports that Egypt and the United Arab Emirates are now getting involved, the conflict has turned into something of a proxy war for the Middle East’s big powers…..Put simply, the crisis could be framed as a contest between Islamist and Arab nationalists — a familiar trope throughout the Arab world.

But there are other factors at play, including regional rivalries, rump parliaments and outside agendas that don’t always align neatly, they add, providing a helpful guide to the key actors in the Libyan maelstrom….RTWT

As Islamists split with jihadists, Libya’s transition can be saved

libya-free_1835951cSplits between jihadists and less extreme Islamists are appearing in Benghazi, cradle of the Libyan uprising, as jihadists achieve success on the ground and the Islamists try to organise, AFP reports:

Islamists of good standing, seen as close to the Muslim Brotherhood, set the ball rolling on Saturday by announcing the formation of a shura or consultative council to “find solutions to the problems of the city” of Benghazi in eastern Libya.

“It is the start of a dispute between advocates of political Islam and jihadists,” said political analyst Saad Najm, who believes the key rift line concerns the principle of democracy.

“It is the end of the honeymoon between Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood tendency and the jihadists, who are against democracy and the civil state,” said political analyst Ezzedine al-Borussi.

“The Islamists who failed to win the parliamentary elections on June 25 will pay the price for their previous support of the jihadists who do not believe in democracy,” said another analyst, Nasser Assamin.

Libya’s situation is dire, but there still are steps that Obama and the international community should take, say two prominent analysts.

Currently, Libya’s political transition is proceeding along four disjointed tracks: the workings of a new parliament, efforts to select a new government, a constitution-making process and a U.N.-backed national dialogue that is intended to broker broad agreement on the founding principles of the Libyan state. These tracks are poorly coordinated and all, except for the national dialogue, have been the target of violence.

A new assistance program in Libya would require the active build-up of the military, with NATO supervision, Chibli Mallat and Duncan Pickard write for the Washington Post:

Libya must also reactivate its stalled processes of institution-building, working toward an inclusive constitution and a government that can persuade militia leaders to lay down their arms — or else pay a financial, political and military price. As in the other Middle Eastern countries free of dictators, Libyans seek a government that delivers security and holds a monopoly on violence. If he moves now to get them the support they need, perhaps Obama won’t be doomed to live with his regrets.

Chibli Mallat is chair of the group Right to Nonviolence. Duncan Pickard is a nonresident fellow at the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East and was Libya country director for Democracy Reporting International.

Libya’s ‘unexpected strength’

Credit: NDI

Credit: NDI

Libya remains in deep chaos. Various militias are competing for political and economic power, carrying out attacks and otherwise buffeting the fragile government, say two leading experts.

Work on a new Constitution has only recently started, well over a year later than envisioned in the political blueprint that was drawn up as the civil war ended in October 2011, Dartmouth College’s Dirk Vandewalle and researcher Nicholas Jahr write for The New York Times:

This is a shame because, despite severe security issues and other debilitating weaknesses, Libya these days has one unexpected strength: Most of its people agree on major issues that are often hopelessly divisive, like minority rights, Islam and federalism.

Polling by the University of Benghazi early last year suggested that a solid 55 percent of the population favored granting some form of recognition to languages other than Arabic, including the long-silenced ones spoken by the Amazigh and the Tebu, two minority groups. According to a study by the National Democratic Institute published last November, a majority of Libyans supported reserving seats for women and ethnic minorities in the constitutional assembly (and some seats were, in fact, set aside for those groups).

Other reports last year by the National Democratic Institute [a core institute of the National Endowment for Democracy] and the University of Benghazi indicated that an overwhelming majority of Libyans believed Shariah, the legal code of Islam based on the Quran, should be enshrined in the new Constitution as a source of legislation (though not the only one). And while many Libyans, particularly in the east, support some degree of decentralization, they favor a centralized state over full-on federalism or any far-reaching devolution of power to the provinces.

“Libya faces fiendishly difficult problems, but there is at least one tangible issue that could be fixed fairly easily,” they contend. “Reforming current electoral rules would close the gap between the people and their leaders, and make good on an enviable asset that is rare in such fragile countries: a popular consensus on major issues that transcends cleavages over smaller ones.”


Dirk Vandewalle is an associate professor of government at Dartmouth College. Nicholas Jahr is a freelance researcher and reporter.

Libya’s Faustian bargains: appeasement is roadblock to stability and progress

libyagncLibya today confirmed the appointment of a new premier after a chaotic vote highlighting tensions between Islamists and liberals in a country sapped by violence nearly three years after the overthrow of Moamer Kadhafi, Agence France Presse reports:

The General National Congress, the interim parliament, ratified Ahmed Maitig, an Islamist-backed businessman, as prime minister in a decision signed by its speaker. However, it is still unclear if the decision by Nuri Abu Sahmein — whose own position is disputed — will end a legal and political row over Miitig’s election, which has been rejected by several lawmakers and Abu Sahmein’s own deputy.

Libya’s transitional Parliament appeared to have finally selected Maitiq as prime minister on Sunday during a chaotic legislative session, but Reuters reports that he was dismissed as soon as he was installed.

The proximal cause of Libya’s current problems in the security sector, the economy, and the transition to constitutional governance is the Libyan authorities’ policy of appeasement of their opponents, says a new Atlantic Council report:

Some analysts have absolved the post-Qaddafi authorities—the National Transitional Council (NTC), General National Congress (GNC),government, cabinet, and ministries—of both their agency and responsibility for the current problems by blaming Qaddafi-era policies, Libya’s primordial social and regional structures, and the absence of institutions (such as a national army or civil society) for most challenges currently facing the country. These factors are, indeed, key components of the troubles and constitute the root causes of the current situation. However, these preexisting factors have been exacerbated and mutated by the practice of appeasement.

Libya’s Faustian Bargains: Breaking the Appeasement Cycle examines the threats to Libya’s stability, provides a detailed mapping of the militia landscape, and details policy options for the Libyan government and its international partners.

The report, authored by Atlantic Council Senior Fellow Karim Mezran, Cambridge University researcher Jason Pack, and’s Mohamed Eljarh, identifies the strategic weakness of post-Qaddafi governments that have appeased political actors and militias for short-term support and stability.

The authors lays blame squarely on post-Qaddafi authorities for failing to urgently tackle the country’s dire economic, political, and security challenges, yet acknowledge the unique tribal and regional structures that complicate such  efforts.

The report also outlines policy recommendations for a new Libyan government (once it is installed), transitional bodies, and the country’s Western and regional allies.

Assessing Libya’s transition

LibyaMEIThree years after the start of the uprisings that led to the ousting of leader Muammar el-Qaddafi, Libyan efforts to build a stable, cohesive, democratic state have faced repeated setbacks.

At this challenging moment in the country’s transition, The Middle East Institute is pleased to host experts David Mack (The Middle East Institute), Karim Mezran (Atlantic Council) and Fred Wehrey (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace) for a discussion about Libya. They’ll be addressing the political and security conditions, steps needed to address the political chaos and divisions afflicting the country, and what more the international community can do to support Libya’s troubled reform process.


Amb. David Mack, Adjunct Scholar, The Middle East Institute

Karim Mezran, Resident Senior Fellow, Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East 

Frederic Wehrey, Senior Associate, Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Charles Dunne (Moderator) Director of Middle East and North Africa Programs, Freedom House, Adjunct Scholar, The Middle East Institute 

When: Wednesday, March 26, 12pm-1:30pm 

Where: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace 1779 Massachusetts Ave NW,  Washington, DC 20036